Siobhan Donaghy: My bitter life as a Sugababe

She fled the music industry, but now she's back. Siobhan Donaghy tells Charlotte Cripps how her bandmates froze her out
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The Independent Culture

Siobhan Donaghy was just 17 when she walked out of the coolest girl band in Britain, the Sugababes, whom she had joined at the age of 14, in floods of tears. Two years later, the 19-year-old has returned with a debut solo album, Revolution in Me, an accomplished pop-rock record that mixes beats (courtesy of Cameron McVey, who has worked with Massive Attack and Portishead) with Donaghy's thoughtful, yearningly sung lyrics.

It might be thought somewhat surprising that the former Sugababe, who was often described as "the white one wearing the skirt", has brought out a grown-up album. But although, on the evidence of her recent live outings, she needs to brush up on her stagecraft, there is an earnestness about her that suggests she isn't the tweenybopping, sulky teenager that one might imagine her to be.

The elfin Donaghy has never seen herself in that light. "I don't see why it surprises anyone that I made a great album," she maintains. She is perched on a leather sofa in Westbourne Studios, in west London, where her new management company, whose other clients include Blur and Morcheeba, resides. These days, she looks 12 but has the wisdom of an old tree.

"I find the charts really, really boring," she confesses. "You used to have to be a genius to get in the charts. Now it is just about selling-out. "People think this album is my indie reinvention, but really it's not. I can't be bothered to take it all so seriously. I just want people to like the record. I'm not obsessed with numbers."

Donaghy is wearing tight black jeans, white pixie shoes from Topshop and a Nike hoodie in silver, grey and red. She looks fragile and pale, with long auburn hair set off by Chanel- rouged cheeks, and tells me: "Some people say I must be anorexic, but I am happy with how I look."

And despite releasing the new album, which includes the Top 20 hit "Overrated" and the new single, "Twist of Fate", all she really wants is a custom-made, old-school Mini, in camouflage, and to go to Cuba at Christmas with her boy- friend, Ted May, who works at the record company Warners. "We met when I was a Sugababe. He got into a lot of trouble for shagging the artist. I was 16 then; he was 25."

When Donaghy left the Sugababes, back in August 2001, she swore she would never work in the music industry again. At that time, the main problem was that the other 'Babes, Keisha Buchanan and Mutya Buena, had frozen her out. The result was a two-year downward spiral into depression and anti-depressants. Working on the album proved cathartic. "Really, it's about how being in the Sugababes made me feel," Donaghy says. "I learnt a lot - about how awful people can be.

"But it's not completely melancholy and about depression," she continues. "It is positive. I was very bitter when I left the Sugababes. But one day I woke up and realised: shit happens. Get over it. I had enough of dwelling on it and blaming others. I felt I needed to become a better person."

Recently, Donaghy has been playing a number of low-key shows under the name Shanghai Nobody (an anagram of her name) and driving around in a transit van. "I missed out all the scummy venues such as Dublin Castle, in Camden, as a Sugababe, and to be honest it has helped me deal with my stage fright," she says.

It is not as though Donaghy doesn't share typical teenage concerns: she still gets freaked out about spots, for one thing. But she is not into the shopping-and-shoes lifestyle. "I can't sing in shoes. I need to be grounded - earthbound," she says. "It is about breathing and mobility. I wore proper stilettos as a Sugababe, 45 minutes at a time. But it has been so long. Now I look at Victoria Beckham and think I'd be crippled if that was me."

One way she differs from many other teenagers is in her determination not to rush things, including a follow-up album. "I am considering doing some charity work. I'm not exactly helping the world right now. It's easy to get self-important. I've made a great record, and the rest of the time, it seems, I spend talking about myself," she says.

Donaghy changes her mind on a weekly basis as to which is her favourite song on the album. At the moment it's "Little Bits" (as in, little bits of misery). "I talk about my depression quite frankly, and it's a most beautiful piece of music - quite Massive Attack. It starts slow, raw and basic, with guitar-picking and a shaker, and builds up into this full-sound instrumental boom. It catches everyone. I always thought it should have felt like this before - really magical - but it never did."

'Revolution in the Head' is on WEA